Dante was about to cast another pebble into the lake when he realised he was no longer alone. He wasn’t sure how he noticed her approach—maybe it was the slight sound of her boots on the grass, or a subtle shift in light and shadow, or maybe it was something else, some other instinct, an intuition he couldn’t explain nor wanted to explain—but he knew she was there.
Kat sat down beside him and pulled a backpack off her shoulder. “It’s lunchtime, and I figured you haven’t had proper food since we got here,” she said, unzipping her bag and pulling out a plastic tub stuffed with sandwiches. She tossed it into his lap.
The sandwiches were Katrina’s handiwork all right, her uneven cuts and sloppy buttering a stark contrast to the precise angles and delicate fillings the vendors produced. Feeling Kat’s eyes upon him, Dante prised one free of its wrapping and took a small bite.
After three days of ambrosia, he almost gagged. The bread was stale. Well, not so much ‘stale’ as ‘yesterday’s loaf’. It wasn’t as fresh or soft as the bread the vendors produced, and its rubbery crust lacked that satisfying, just-baked crispness. A crumb of cheese, its taste almost overwhelming in its richness, tumbled down his chin and onto his shirt.
“So,” said Kat, “what’ve you been up to?”
“Stuff,” he replied. More than stuff, in truth. He had spent the past three days conducting a thorough investigation of the island. Avalon, however, was a cunning adversary.
It began with the ocean. Dante had spent his Saturday afternoon wandering the white sands, taking measurements and noting down observations. At first he had thought to use his cellular, but after it continued to insist the sand genuine and the sea natural saltwater, despite its taste, Dante had turned to the sketchbook Katrina had packed. His own handwriting would not lie to him.
Right now, that sketchbook lay open on the desk in his room, its pages filled with scribbled diagrams Dante had used to try to solve the mystery of the Avalonian sky. Theia, of course, was conspicuous by its absence, as it had been aboard the Seelie cruiser, but there was something off about the sun, too. Dante found that he could stare at it as if it were nothing more than a light bulb—bright enough to leave a dancing afterimage when he looked away, but not so much that it hurt his eyes. Reasoning it as much an illusion as the sky itself, he spent his Sunday tracking its position from multiple points across the island. If it were an aethex projection designed to mimic the sun, then the laws of parallax would give it away.
The figures, however, did not add up. According to his calculations, the sun Dante could stare at without consequence was the sun itself, one-hundred forty-nine million kilometres distant. If it was an illusion, the only way to be sure would be to reach out and touch it.
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After spending thirty chapters on the events of just two days, I thought it best to skip ahead a few…